Last Updated on November 11, 2023 by Laura Teso
On May 17, less than 2 months after I started this blog, I got an invitation by Valentina of www.aroundandabouttreviso.com to join the “Da Ponte a Ponte” blogtour. It was about hiking over some stretches of a 30 km historical and naturalistic itinerary along the Piave river World War 1 frontline. Da Ponte a Ponte means From Bridge to Bridge, because it starts from the bridge of Vidor and ends at Ponte (bridge) della Priula in Susegana.
The aim of the Association (same name, Da Ponte a Ponte www.ww1daponteaponte.com) is to preserve the memory of what happened here and to spread the value of peace, since, according to many testimonies from both sides, we are aware of the fact that most of the soldiers involved were just young men, almost boys, whose only wish was that the war would end soon.
Da Ponte a Ponte, Along the Piave river World War 1 frontline
The first thing that hit me getting to the meeting point of Da Ponte a Ponte was the radiant beauty of the place. How is it possible to fight here? I’m not saying that elsewhere it is understandable, but here, among these hills with vineyards, under that clear sky, with the morning gentle breeze, it seems inconceivable.
After the defeat of Caporetto – Kobarid (October 24, 1917) the Italian army retreated to the right of the river Piave. The retreat was distinguished by various battles in order to delay the advance of the Austro-Hungarian Army, which was better equipped and with better trained soldiers. Actually the main Austro-Hungarian mistake was considering the Italian army already defeated after Caporetto.
1) Battaglia d’Arresto (something like Stop Battle) occurred in Vidor on November 10th 1917. Some of the Italian troops remained to the left of the Piave (north) to defend the bridge, causing heavy losses to the enemy. The people of Vidor were sent away because the village was in the forefront. For the locals it was a terrible time, of starvation and suffering. Italian troops opposed a strong resistance, allowing the defensive line to resist the offensive. Things started to get complicated for the Austo-Hungarians: the new frontline was now far from their railways, so supplies became difficult.
2) The second Battle of the Piave (called by poet Gabriele D’Annunzio the Battle of the Solstice) occurred in the territory of Susegana (Colfosco and Collalto). On June 15th 1918, the Austro-Hungarian army attacked the Italian troops. But their plans were not a mystery for the Italians thanks to the warnings of many deserters. The gas bombs used by the enemy also did not do cause the expected massacre thanks to the British innovative gas masks. Hundreds of soldiers died drowned at night in an attempt to re-cross the river. The losses were enormous on both sides, about 240.000 soldiers: Italians, Austrians, British, Hungarians, Germans, Czechs, French, Poles, Slavs. The battle lasted 8 days until the withdrawal of the Austro-Hungarian army.
It was at that moment that the legend of the Piave began. Thanks to this victory a sense of enthusiasm and national unity (unknown until then) broke out.
3) The Final Battle began on October 24th 1918 on the Monte Grappa. It then moved on the Piave on the 27th. The battle was fierce, with a loss of about 125.000 soldiers, until the withdrawal of the Austro-Hungarian troops.
On November 4th 1918 the armistice of Villa Giusti (near Padua) marked the end of Great War in Italy.
The first stretch of the route we made was up to the trenches of Col Marcon (Marcon Hill), surrounded by the Prosecco vineyards.
Along the way (here and in the other stretches of the itinerary) there are panels in Italian and English, explaining how the life in the trenches was, the role of dogs during the war, etc.
The person who accompanied us told us that during at the end of WW1 the average weight of the soldiers was about 40 kg (88 pounds). Can you imagine?
Then we reached Col Castello (Castle Hill). Here once stood the Castle of Vidor and an adjoining church. The Castle was unfortunately destroyed in 1510 during the Cambrai War, whereas the church endured until the Great War, when it fell too. After 500 years, people still call this hill Castello. The present church dates back to 1925 and guards the remains of Vidor’s Fallen.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I was surprised to see that, among the deaths attributed to the Great War, there were unfortunately several young men who died four or even more years after the end of the conflict because of the consequences of their injuries. Even those who managed to return to their homes didn’t survive the war in the end. Poor lads.
Here the contrast between the trenches, walkways and bunkers and the beauty of the landscape is even more striking.
Our hearts lightened a bit with the visit to the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Bona. It dates back to 1107. the monks built it to house the remains of Santa Bona, brought here from the Holy Land by the crusader Giovanni da Vidor. The Abbey was seriously damaged during WW1. We were lucky to visit it cause it is private so it is visitable only on special occasions. It is a real gem, surrounded by nature and full of flowers. It has a fabulous cloister with a fresco, unfortunately deteriorated, depicting a Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints (John the Baptist and Jerome). But the best thing is the view from the terrace overlooking the river where, thanks to the beautiful day, there were people walking, sunbathig, and some daredevils were even bathing. I swear, you can check the picture!
After lunch in the Pedré Park we went to Passo Barca (Boat Pass, because here once was the transportation service between the two banks of the river) in Falzè di Piave. There you can find a small but pleasant park with benches, grills and with access to the river. On the lawn you can see a raft once used to transport people and goods. There were canoeists and kayakers, swimmers, etc. As you can see in the photos, the river’s water flow was quite low during our visit. The members of the Association explained to us that only at certain times of the year (November and March, I think) the Piave riverbed fills up completely.
Near this park you can admire the Monument dedicated to the Arditi (the brave), elite soldiers chosen to accomplish risky missions.
The part of our blogtour I appreciated the most was the naturalistic reserve of Fontane Bianche (white fountains) in Fontigo. It was once an hunting area, recovered years ago from Legambiente, an environmental association. The local hunters were so furious at that time that shot as a protest the sign at the entrance. You can still see the signs of the bullets. The tour is pleasant and completely flat. I think it would be a 1 – 2 hours tour including stops. For those who love bird watching the ideal season is autumn. You can see kingfishers, egrets, herons, snipes, mallards. Inside the reserve there are springs of cold water (10° C), so clear that you can see the bottom. I managed to take a photo of a beautiful emerald blue kind of dragonfly, actually called damigella (damsel).
The last leg was near Susegana, in the Colfosco area. We parked in front of the bar Ciao bei (Hello beautiful, in Venetian dialect), a very folksy place. We stopped there to freshen up a bit and I liked it a lot, because it reminded me a tavern in which I worked as a waitress when I was young. There were many people there sitting and enjoying wine served in cups as they do in Bretagne with cider. Fantastic!
After passing next to the church of St. Anne the way goes along the river Soligo, which then flows into the Piave. You can immediately smell the wild garlic. It’s really peculiar. It seems to get lost in a wood, however accompanied by the familiar smell of your grandma cooking! The road leads to a Roman bridge, then it passes under a dark tunnel and then you reach a cave, used as a hospital during the WW1. Getting to the cave and returning at the parking lot took us less than 2 hours (at a rather fast pace). In my humble opinion this part of the route is not suitable for everyone.
For those who walk a lot it is surely a piece of cake. But for people like me (couch potato), little children, elderly people it is not, because once you arrive at the Roman bridge, to be able to admire it from the bottom, you have to go down a very short but a bit steep descent (especially if the ground is muddy). There is a handrail, but not very secure. The tunnel is dark and you can’t see anything without a torch (we used our smartphones to light it up). The path leading to the cave is partially crossed by a rivulet. So you have to repeatedly watch where you put your feet and jump here and there to avoid the water (which is ludicrously low but without proper shoes it’s easy to slip). Moreover the cave didn’t impress me much.
All things considered I appreciated very much this Da Ponte a Ponte itinerary.
- Some views are wonderful.
- The area, mostly known for the Prosecco hills, deserves more attention.
- The Da Ponte a Ponte path is for the most part suitable for everyone and pleasant.
- Hikers and nature lovers will appreciate it.
- Furthermore it is a useful opportunity to discover a part of history not very well known to many people.
- Nearby there are also beautiful cycling trails.
Da Ponte a Ponte – Did you know that…
- I’ve always called the river Piave [PYAH-veh] as if it were masculin, il Piave. The majority of people calls it so. In Italian river is in fact a masculin noun, il fiume [eel FYOOH-meh]. There’s also a famous patriotic song, “La canzone del Piave” (The song of the Piave). Also n the song the Piave is masculin. But the local experts told us that before the war the Piave was feminine, la Piave. With the Great War the Piave became the river sacred to the Motherland. The fascist rulers could not accept the idea that it was feminine. So they changed the article. But in the local dialect people still call her la Piaf or la Piau.
- In 1918 Ernest Hemingway was in this area as a volunteer for the USA Red Cross. He was 18, serving as a driver of ambulances. One day he was handing chocolate to some Italian soldiers, when an Austrian mortar shell hit them. Two Italians died and a third one was heavily injured. Hemingway was injured too and passed away for a while. When he woke up he carried the wounded lad to the first aid post. He was then awarded a medal of valour. His novel “A Farewell to Arms” was inspired by this experience. A friend of Hemingway, lieutenant Edward McKey, fell along the Piave and now rests in the Fagaré cemetery. Hemingway wrote a poem for him, that is carved on McKey’s shrine:
Killed – Piave, June 1918
All the sweet pulsing aches
And gentle hurtings
That were you,
Are gone into the sullen dark.
Now in the night you come unsmiling
To lie with me
A dull, cold, rigid bayonet
On my hot-swollen throbbing soul.